Pandemic, pistols & pandemonium: Rise in gun violence during the COVID-19 pandemic
On March 13, 2020, President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency. Unfortunately, as cases of COVID-19 began to skyrocket in the United States, so did cases of gun violence. The American Academy of Family Physicians defines gun violence as “homicide, violent crime, attempted suicide, suicide, and unintentional death and injury.” The mass spread of COVID-19 created capacity issues for hospitals, as Americans were being hospitalized at an exponentially-increasing number daily. While hospitals were struggling to maintain space for COVID patients, the national average of gun violence rose 30% during the pandemic, causing greater difficulty in adequately treating all of their patients.
The national increase in gun violence was 30%, but some states faced more drastic increases. For example, Michigan, New York and Minnesota saw 100% increases in gun violence. The study that collected these statistics indicated that, while the research did not focus on the factors contributing to the increased gun violence, the “increased psychological stress resulting from COVID-19 or the increase in firearm sales” likely contributed to the spike. COVID aside, many factors can contribute to gun violence, such as income inequality, lack of opportunities, and easy access to firearms.
Taking the impact of COVID-19 into account, the restrictions brought by quarantining partnered with adjustments caused by living in a pandemic likely amplified the factors associated with gun violence. For example, unemployment rates reached a record high of 14.8% at one point during the pandemic. Historically, there has been a 2.5 times increase in suicide associated with unemployment. Furthermore, studies found a drastic increase in firearm purchases from March 2020 to May 2020. The findings show an estimated 2.1 million gun purchases in the United States during this time frame. Unfortunately, as the data suggested, this drastic increase in gun access correlated with a rise in gun violence.
A 2019 study on gun violence and income inequality concluded that “income inequality fosters an environment of anger and resentment that ultimately leads to violence.” Lower-income populations already face a higher risk of unemployment, less access to adequate health care and overall lower quality of life. Compounding these factors with the effects COVID brought onto these communities could explain the drastic increase in gun violence. COVID led to mass unemployment, lack of access to healthcare, and a lower quality of life across the country. However, communities with insufficient access to resources and employment opportunities experienced amplified deprivation.
Another contributing factor to the increased rates of gun violence is the toll on people’s mental health due to living in a pandemic environment. According to a recent study conducted by The Lancet Regional Health of Boston University, the national average of people with depression before the COVID-19 pandemic was approximately 8%. However, the study’s research from March and April of 2020 showed the average jump to a staggering 28%, eventually peaking at 32% a year later due to the impact of COVID-19.
According to Marc Rosenthal at the Task Force for Global Health, “[i]t’s shocking how little we know about this rise. There has been very little research on gun violence in the US for 20 years, and our lack of knowledge on this reflects that.” There is no excuse for the United States’ lack of research regarding gun violence and effective measures in preventing and reducing it. Too many lives are senselessly lost to gun violence, no matter whether it is the kid at home with unsupervised access to a gun or someone in a constant feeling of hopelessness. It is essential to provide access to resources for gun information and safety and mental health assistance to ensure that our nation does not experience a spike in gun violence like the one brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.